Though being present is key in living a life of faith, it is also important not to forget the past and what has come before to make way for the current opportunities afforded to a church's congregation — something not lost on Rev. Keith Schadel and the members of the Hesston United Methodist Church as they get ready to celebrate more than 130 years of history on Sunday.
"What I'm hoping that we're doing is that we're honoring this tradition of faith that has kept the gospel at the forefront in our congregations, and more importantly in our community, for more than 130 years," Schadel said. "It's noteworthy, in a sense, because the community has become predominantly Mennonite and sometimes people are mislead or forget the contribution that both the Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren brought very early in the life of this community."
"(It's) just to remind all of us of the history and how we can move forward and to have some better appreciation of what those pioneers did and committed to by not only coming out here and settling, but bringing the Lord along and celebrating and getting to know him better, and reaching out to the greater communities in the area," said Stan Clark, who is helping organize the celebration. "Hopefully we are and will continue that today."
Celebrating the history of the church, unity will be a key theme of the day, like the three congregations that originally came together to form the Hesston United Methodist Church (with the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren coming together on a local level before doing so nationally). Events planned include former church leaders and choir members reuniting with the current congregation to help lead worship service at 10:10 a.m. on Sunday, while there will also be an all-church meal following service at 11:30 a.m. and a special program on church history starting at 1 p.m. During that time, Clark noted many of the former church leaders will have time to share remembrances.
Additionally, there will be a progressive tour of historical church sites through town, including 11 stops in total that ranges from former church buildings to schools to old parsonages (houses provided for members of the clergy) — some of which predate even the official incorporation of Hesston. The tour is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m, with anniversary cake to be served at HUMC at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend the day's festivities.
Having that involvement of past church leaders and members in particular is something that both Clark and Schadel said is very special because it represents various eras of the church and gives context to what the church has been through in its 130-plus years.
"One of the reasons you do things like anniversaries is to remember that there was a faithful group of people who celebrated together when things were going great, but who also endured and probably became stronger during hard times," Schadel said.
Schadel pointed to a number of historic events Hesston United Methodist Church has endured through, like the Great Depression, Vietnam War (which had a particularly polarizing effect on the local community) and the Hesston tornado of 1990. Past, and even some current, members, stuck with the church through those times, which Schadel took as testimony to why all eras of a church's lifespan are so important to consider.
"Between the Vietnam era and the tornado, there was a period where the church attendance, membership and giving got pretty low, and as I understand it, there was talk that maybe the church wasn't going to make it," Schadel said. "I don't know the details, but somehow it got through that time."
Given how far back the history of Hesston United Methodist Church goes, Clark noted the mission statements of some of the early churches are unknown, but like the original idea of founder John Wesley, the HUMC congregation is focused on taking its teachings out into the world. Clark noted there is a sign for members as they leave church to remind them that their mission field is beyond the church.
On top of that, Schadel noted the mission extends beyond the current congregation, and that is something he wants to come across in Sunday's celebration. As part of the worship service, the congregation will be receiving communion on Sunday and singing "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" as the closing hymn, which Schadel sees as a pertinent summation of the church and its members' role in its history.
"Different people have different pieces of the historic puzzle and none of us have the pieces of the historic puzzle that is yet to come, but the tie that binds us together is going to be consistent yesterday, today and tomorrow," Schadel said, "and that is the body and blood of Jesus Christ granting to us God's salvation through his sacrifice and resurrection."
Anniversary activities will start with worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday at Hesston United Methodist Church, 606 N. Ridge Road.